We’ve all heard of the skydiving adventures, the white water rafting and surfing on the sand dunes in the north. I myself have indulged in activities and experiences that are highly advertised throughout New Zealand, such as bungy jumping, or a Lord of the Rings tour. And they were great! I don’t regret any of them. Quite the contrary. Having been on multiple trips around the wonderful country of Aotearoa, however, there are my top 5 things to do in New Zealand, those things that really stood out for me, that truly made it a memorable time and were so special that I’ll definitely do them again when I next visit.
Do not leave New Zealand without wwoofing! I entered the country without ever having heard of the WWOOF concept. Luckily my good friend Giuseppe filled me in on all the details and made sure I promised him to give it a go whilst in Aotearoa. WWOOF used to stand for “Willing Workers on Organic Farms,” nowadays it’s “Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms.” It’s a worldwide network that started in the UK in 1971. It connects volunteers with organic farms to allow both parties to exchange ideas about sustainability, organic lifestyles and principles. The idea is that volunteers normally work for 4 hours a day in exchange for food, accommodation and learning opportunities.
I wwoofed in an organic community for 2 weeks, landscaping a garden, harvesting, preserving food, cooking, working in the garden and learning a lot about sustainable living. I had a blast and got on with my hosts and fellow wwoofers like a house on fire. It is a great way to spice up your travel routine, get productive and share experiences with locals in stunning locations.
Believe it or not, New Zealand is great for learning how to surf. Never having done it myself, I braved the waves in Curio Bay. It’s the southernmost place on earth to learn how to surf! If you’re driving through the Catlins (which you definitely should) and are in need for some physical activity, just make base at Curio Bay for a few days (there’s a nice campground there, too). There is no prior surfing experience needed, you get all the equipment you need and you’ll be riding the waves standing on your board (!) after a few hours of training. Curio Bay is ideal as the waves roll in nice and smooth, and are quite regular for what I as a beginner could say. You’ll have to don a wetsuit as the water is a bit cold, but you’ll forget that as soon as you see the Hector dolphins swimming next to you and your board…
3. Wine tasting
Yes, New Zealand has got some great wines. Whether in Otago or in Marlborough, a wine tasting is something special. On your way to Queenstown you’ll find a lot of vineyards, such as Peregrine, just off SH 6, and if you’re keen on killing two birds with one stone, you’ll bungy at Kawarau Bridge and then head over to Van Asch Wines next door to reward yourself for your bravery. Some will offer a wine tasting for free and some ask for a small fee. It’s a great experience to savour the flavour of an Otago Pinot Noir and have a chat with the friendly vintners.
We all know Kiwis like their rugby and the great outdoors. But I think another of their favourite pastimes has to be camping. And for a good reason. I mean, who wouldn’t with such spectacular nature right in front of the doorstep! There are tons of campgrounds all over the country. Depending on your standards and budget, there are campgrounds catering for everyone, from Top 10 Holiday Parks to independents to Department of Conservation campsites. I found camping a great way of getting in touch with locals: learning of mice fishing from a real Kiwi bushman and sandflies’ dislike of a certain household cleaning product…
5. Local events
There’s something going on wherever you are. Pick up a local newspaper, no matter how small the town you’re in, such as the Fjordland Focus in Te Anau (you can get it at Fresh Choice supermarket), and have a look at what people in the community are up to. Or, do what I did: I was in Taupo and just popped into Taupo Events Centre in pursuit of the climbing wall only to find myself amidst the Northern Area Marching Extravaganza!
What an experience! I didn’t even know this was a sport. I immediately forgot about climbing, had a chat with locals and watched the competition. I returned a day later, wanting to tackle the climbing wall, which I did, but still not the way I had expected to. About 10 minutes into the climbing session, a local Maori music group entered the hall and held their regular singing lesson. How’s that for a cultured, unusual and entertaining climbing lesson? Only in New Zealand.
I hope this gives you just a wee bit of insight into activities you can partake in when in New Zealand that are a bit unusual, less advertised or allow you to immerse yourself more in the culture. The list is by no means exhaustive, though…